Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gaming in English Class

Glenn Seland is the English Department Chair at Fishers High School (a BYOD 1:1 school) He teaches AP Literature and Composition, IB Theory of Knowledge, Literature of Science Fiction, and IU Dual Credit courses W131 and L202.


I am not a gamer. In truth, I probably annoy the few real gamers I have known, because I want to explore the environments and every detail the creators of the game have developed. Gaming has largely been dead to me for the better part of a decade as I have raised a family, moved from Long Island, and worked as a department chairperson in my school. Life has been BUSY.

Then, my brother-in-law stayed with us for a while and with him, gaming returned. He introduced me to a game called Destiny. This is a massive, online, set in space, first-person shooter. I am not big on shooter games, but before long, I found myself immersed in the game – complete with headsets and all.

The game was, in every sense, addictive. It kept pulling me in to go deeper - explore more, achieve more. Soon I found myself questioning what was it that motivated me to keep returning to a game that never ends? While it probably varies from individual to individual, overall, I was able to identify a few key ideas: achievements and badges, open-choice worlds, and the ability to keep replaying until a mission objective is achieved.

Then my inquiry took a new direction: what if I set up a novel unit that mimicked these concepts? How might that increase student motivation? The game was afoot! I locked myself in my room and charted, mapped, and wondered how this idea could transfer into a reality in my classroom. I soon discovered there were already educators on this path, but the professional website that was most in-line with my ideal was somewhat costly. Instead, I decided to use materials already available to me or freeware.

I wanted to combine multiple intelligence learning, performance badges, inquiry-based projects, and mastery learning in one comprehensive unit. But it had to feel like a game. It needed characters, abilities, challenges, and quests. The idea of switching out tests and quizzes for quests was powerful – it unlocked a new level of teaching for me. It reshaped how I thought about our activities…and undid some of the “teachering” in me. I was freer to approach standards and tasks with a different frame, and it helped me to approach the unit as a designer or developer.

I chose a shorter novel as my game subject, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and then gave it a bit of a steampunk theme. With the help of my PS4, I introduced students to a few games that demonstrated the framework I was going to be using for this unit. Students who had never participated before jumped at the chance to play a video game in front of their peers. Then we jumped into the unit. It began with having the students establish a character for themselves and take a multiple intelligence test (figure 1) to help shape the projects they would eventually create.

Figure 1 Sample Multiple Intelligence quiz
The characters were meant to shape the types of projects and activities they could choose from as well as help to make it feel like a game (figure 2). I created character types like Time Travelers, Freelancers, Architects, Artisans, and Cyberpunks. Each “class” of student had different quests to choose from that fit their learning interests. Each quest had a name and a point value. Quests could be submitted and resubmitted until a student earned a mastery score. A mastery score would earn a student a badge of completion, which they could display and accumulate. Badges served two functions, one to indicate successful completion of a quest, but could also be awarded to students for things not usually recognized, like class leadership or teamwork. These badges also transferred into extra credit points at the end of a grading period. The more badges, the more extra credit.
Figure 2 Sample character page in OneNote

I particularly enjoyed creating badges for the students as it allowed for a good deal of creativity and the chance to recognize student achievement. There are numerous badge creating apps and sites to choose from, and I used several. Badges were also given titles like The Clone, or Big Idea (figure 3). The content/quest badges were directly linked to IDOE standards. I used the website Forallrubrics.com to create and house the badges. This site also allowed me to create and track mastery learning rubrics for my students’ grades.
Figure 3 Sample Quest with associated badges

The mastery learning rubric always provided feedback to students as to what they needed to do to get the score they wanted. It didn’t serve to assess what was wrong per se. This allowed students to resubmit and try again without the fear of failure. My students appreciated this tone within a rubric and activity.
Figure 4 Sample mastery rubric

After much of this initial introduction and setup, the class pretty much became a workshop for the novel where students created projects to reveal their learning focus and inquiry into the novel. Once the students caught it, it took off! I had students creating amazing projects. For example, one student identified through her MI test that she learned well through physical, natural, outdoor kinds of activities. She created a poster of all the flowers that appear in the novel and their symbolic meanings and impact on the scenes they appeared in. Other students created dances or modern art that revealed motivations and conflict within the main characters. Some of my bakers created symbolism cakes and presented them to the class. Another student used physics to calculate the amount of force used within a specific scene.
Figure 5 Sample student badges and achievements

It was actually difficult to keep up with the student work! It flew in faster than I expected. These inquiry projects, based on multiple intelligence data, and assessed with a mastery system, were creative, engaging, and insight-filled.

Of course there are things I learned along the way, like more specific guidelines for the learners who need more direction, and more refined pacing of deadlines and reflection activities. The level of freedom I offered was liberating for most of the students, but some needed more guidance or boundaries to move forward – baby steps! Even so, for a first run - or a beta - it was powerful and motivated my students beyond what I had hoped. Their increased enthusiasm was the end game, but it has also motivated me to refine and advance my design for the next level – a semester-long game.

Sites used:

Forallrubrics.com to house badges and mastery rubrics.
Openbadges.me to create badges.
Literacynet.org for the multiple intelligence test.

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